Saturday, September 10, 2011

An Old Party Dress for a New Baby

I keep finding old objects in the dark corners of Chez Chapman. When my sister pulled down an old trunk from the crawl space over the garage, we found several tiny baby dresses inside. My sister took a couple for her grandchildren and I saved one. I loved the white and red of it, and the detailed smocking.

My mother was an expert seamstress, and I'm sure she made this baby dress with its tiny little stitches and red trim. Since my niece is expecting a baby girl this month, I decided to launder and press it and send it to her as a gift from the past to the future.

I washed it with care. Ironing those minute pleats wasn't easy:  I wonder how often my detail-oriented mother had to do that after the frequent spills of food and liquid that go along with the behavior of little people. Maybe that's what made her crazy!

I could not remember seeing photos of me in this dress. And there was a small burn hole in the hem that suggested it might have been handed down to one of my cousins who had smokers in the family--though a lot of people who picked up babies in those days also smoked cigarettes.

I went back to the photo albums to see if I could find it.

Turns out it was a very special dress: First Child's First Birthday.

My sister Kimberly, having not yet met me, as I was not yet born.  Having her first birthday without me, in her stylish, new, handmade party dress.

That's my sister Kimberly attacking the frosting on her first birthday cake. The celebration took place in Palo Alto while my father labored to build our new house in Los Altos.

I don't know if I wore it later on or not. But my sister will be this new baby's grandmother--so her connection is more important. I have mended and ironed it and I'm going to send it to my niece for her new daughter. I hope she likes it. It was made with loving care by the careful needle of the great grandmother this little girl will know only through our stories.

She will also know her through the stitches of this garment: among the many threads that connect the generations of our family.

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D said...

This is really something. What a meticulous seamstress she was!

Jack said...

Your Mom sewed an incredibly pretty dress, Robin. Is that linen? You probably know that we can click to open the picture, then click on that photo to bring up the very large, zoomed image. That really showcases the detailed stitching you write about; remembering how my Mom put her love for us in every afghan she knitted, I can easily put myself in your Mom's room watching her sew, smiling in anticipation of seeing her little girl beaming in her pretty new dress.

Robin Chapman said...

It is just a very soft cotton, nicer for a baby's skin than linen, in the end. She did make us some "pinafores" of organdy, which is a very stiff cotton, easily wrinkled like linen and I remember we had to sit in the car with the back of the pinafore out from under us, so we wouldn't crinckle up her ironing job!

Sadly, my mother was such a perfectionist that when she found she couldn't sew to her standards any more she just quit entirely. That and cheap goods from China ended the era of nifty sewing.

peretzklein said...

At least you know whose dress it was. I've seen too many scary movies of old articles that were haunted. The dress is beautiful, but it reminds me of what those twins were wearing in The Shining" "Come play with us forever and ever and ever..."

Robin Chapman said...

Hmm, maybe we should put it on a doll. My mother did have her "shining" moments ...